A Guide to Watch Collecting: An Introduction
Given an infinite budget, I would likely be starting a new watch collection every other week. While the contents of my wallet are very much finite, this doesn’t stop me from spending countless hours researching the stories that I might piece together into a collection if I one day get the chance.
This series is one that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, both as an outlet for my obsession, but also as an educational insight into how collections can be started and curated. Throughout this series, I will unearth the stories behind the collections that inspire me to dig deeper.
The Second Watch
The first foray for this series will feature a brand that many watch collectors will often overlook. Many watch snobs might tell you that the only real watches are those that are mechanical, and that quartz is a disease that almost killed horology. While the latter might be true, during the quartz crisis of the 70s and early 80s, people collect different watches for different reasons and it isn’t always about what is making the watch tick. Brands that embrace change and adapt to it have not only survived, but flourished. One brand, Swatch, has done exactly that.
Swatch Group (which now owns household names such as Omega and Longines, just to name a few) created Swatch in response to the quartz crisis. While everyone else was running away and trying to dismiss the newer cheaper technology, Swatch ran in head-first. The name itself is a combination of the words “second” and “watch”, to emphasise the concept of their watches as casual, fun, and essentially disposable. To this day they encapsulate this spirit, through the recently announced Swatch x You line which lets you flex your creative muscles as you customise and produce your own watch for next to nothing. In fact, a custom swatch doesn’t cost much more than most of their off-the-shelf models.
Collecting Art not Accessories
Now is where you might be asking yourself, “is there really a market in collecting dirt cheap quartz watches?” Yes, yes there is. It may even shock you to find out that some Swatch watches go for more than a brand new Rolex Sub. One such example, introduced in 1985, is the Kiki Picasso Swatch, the very first in the Swatch & Art Collection. Not only was this the first watch of a collection that still continues today, but there were also less than 150 made, giving it a price tag today of approximately $30,000.
As the watch that started it all for collectable Swatches, it is a must have for any die hard Swatch collectors. Not to be confused with Pablo Picasso, Christian Chapiron, aka Kiki Picasso, is best known for his 70s inspired graphic designs of the punk-rock era. He was an activist made infamous through his provocative art and films, even his alias itself drew more than its fair share of controversy.
For those looking to have a theme running through their Swatch collection, look no further than the Keith Haring set. Keith Haring is much more of a household name than Kiki but came to fame similarly though his activism in the 80s. He is often remembered as having created the visual language of the 20th century and was in the same circle as Andy Warhol. The simplistic characters that he painted throughout the New York subway now have cult status and his work hangs in some of the most famous modern art museums in the world.
If you find any one of his amazing Swatch designs for less than $1,000 then you’ve got yourself a bargain. Not bad for a quartz watch made of plastic. The trick here, for the budding watch investor, is to obtain the complete set (as pictured above) and perhaps supplement it with a print (or original if you’re so inclined) to ensure an above average return.
A final thought
I want to finish episode one with this final thought. As with art, many do not understand how value can be apportioned to something that seems, at least at face value, purely artificial. However, nothing could further from the truth. Just think of coin collecting, where special coins can be sold and traded for thousands of dollars despite only being monetarily worth the number printed on it. Collecting, whether it be art, watches or (as Swatch has shown – both), is all about the narrative that links a series of objects together into a collection to create something worth sharing. At the end of the day, there are hundreds of Swatches to choose from and a collection is ultimately for your enjoyment. Collect what interests you, whether it be because it holds a place in history, because you enjoy a particular artist or style, or simply because you like how it looks on your wrist.
Go out there and start putting together your story and who knows, you could end up selling your Swatch collection for almost $6 million.
Stay tuned for Episode Two of A Guide to Watch Collecting. You can follow Adam’s horological hypothesis’ on Instagram @WatchRally.